Concussion has recently attracted a lot of attention both in the sports media and in the mainstream media, as evidenced by Will Smith playing a leading role in the Hollywood movie called Concussion.
Given that many of the main sports played in England (including rugby and football) have high rates of concussion associated with them, the management of this injury is important.
Sending incorrect messages about concussion to large audiences through the media has the potential to misinform individuals who have had a concussion or who may have a concussion in the future. This is of significance both in the short-term to ensure a safe return-to-play, but also in the long-term. Recent research has highlighted the connection between concussion and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease, and this is currently the subject of much interest in the scientific community.
The origin of this study came from conversation on Twitter between myself and my American collaborator Professor Eric Hall (from Elon University, North Carolina). We had shared many discussions about how concussion is reported in the media, and we had both noticed sports reporters frequently talking about this injury in a manner which lessens the severity of the injury (e.g. “it was only a mild concussion”- which is the title of our paper). To explore this in more depth, we conducted an analysis of online sports reports to try and see what was being reported with regards to concussion. What was being said about concussion? How was it being said? And who was providing these soundbites?
Our findings were mixed. Although many of the descriptions of concussive injuries were accurately described using appropriate terminology, there were lots of examples of terms such as “head knock” being used. This could be perceived to be a term which is not as serious as “concussion” or “brain injury”, and could lead to athletes at a recreational level not seeking medical attention and possibly returning to play sooner than is safe to do so.
To attempt to assist the communication process between journalist and the general public, myself and Professor Hall created the “Media Concussion Checklist”.
We hope that this checklist will be of benefit to journalists reporting on concussion, many of whom will not be aware of the return-to-play guidelines or resolution of this injury. By providing them with an easy-to-follow checklist, it is hoped that they can cross-reference their work with this to ensure that they are providing interesting reading material to their audience which is also in keeping with current knowledge on concussion in sport.
Some of the key points from this checklist include:
- Many colloquial and inaccurate terms such as “head knock”, “head clash”, “ding” or “bump to the head” diminish the severity of a concussion and can detract from the fact that all are brain injuries. If your article contains such terms then consider removing them and using the term “brain injury” instead.
- A concussion cannot be “shaken off” during a game. The minimum return-to-play duration according to current medical guidelines is 5 days. Ensure that you do not mislead your audience with timescales of return to play following concussion.
- Losing consciousness is not required to be diagnosed with a brain injury. However, any athlete that does lose consciousness must be removed from play immediately and cannot return until the athlete has complied with return to play medical guidelines
Dr Osman Ahmed, Lecturer in Physiotherapy at Bournemouth University